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New Indiana law aims to draw the line on sex education, making parents decide

Beginning this next academic year, teachers in Indiana’s public schools will require permission from parents before instructing their children on sex.
(WTHR file photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (Statehouse File) — Beginning this next academic year, teachers in Indiana’s public schools will require permission from parents before instructing their children on sex.

Senate Enrolled Act 65 takes effect July 1 and requires schools to seek written consent from a parent or guardian before providing lessons on human sexuality. Parents can consent or refuse permission. If they haven’t responded after attempts to reach them, children will receive the lessons.

State Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, the bill’s author, said it will act as a check and ensure that teachers across the state are only teaching what is written into the curriculum.

“Our state standards of human sexuality are very good in Indiana but we have teachers who are going beyond the standards and are getting into what I call more sensual, more nitty-gritty stuff, almost to the area of pornography,” said Kruse. “We thought ‘wow this is creeping in now’ so we better do something so that it doesn’t take over the curriculum.”

Indiana law requires that schools teach abstinence-only sex education, preventing teachers from giving students any details about birth control, condoms or sexually-transmitted diseases.

Ginger Hixson-Kahl, sex education teacher in Edinburgh schools for 37 years, doesn’t agree that abstinence-only education should be the main focus.

“That’s not happening, so if you don’t teach about it the students won’t know about it,” said Hixson-Kahl. “Therefore, there’s going to be more STDs, more unwanted pregnancies and I do believe sex education makes a difference. The number of STDs and the number of pregnancies are the two main features that sex education needs to work on. Actual sex education.”

The debate over sex education has long been focused on whether abstinence-only or comprehensive sex education should be taught in public schools.

The United States has funded abstinence-only sex education programs for decades and has consistently seen high teen pregnancy rates and birth rates compared to other developed countries, according to the research article Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates: Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S.

From 2002 to 2005 alone, the U.S. reported more than 72,000 pregnant girls ages 15 to 19 while Canada only saw about 29,000 pregnant teens.

“Indiana was a leader and produced a national curriculum that was used across the country beginning in the 1960s, so we literally wrote the book on modern sex education,” said Angela Potter, IUPUI graduate researcher. She studied Indiana’s sex education for her graduate thesis.

“Sex education in the United States is predominantly local. In other countries, there is a national mandated curriculum,” said Potter. “In Indiana, as most states, the decisions are made either at the state level or more usually at the local level. This is difficult for organizations because they have to meet so many different requirements but it also allows them to tailor it to the specific community.”

During House committee hearings on SB 65, testifiers raised the concern that this bill would also be preventing any classroom discussions involving LGBT topics and how this will impact those students.

In response to this discussion, Kruse stated that he does not believe that topics involving LGBT issues should be taught or discussed in schools.

“They just have to teach according to the standards and abstinence, that’s the main thing, so actually they don’t even mention those things,” said Kruse. “It’s not in our curriculum and teachers shouldn’t be teaching that now. It’s not in out standards.”

Although Hixson-Kahl retired before LGBT issues were at the forefront of discussion, she feels that eliminating it from school discussion is wrong.

“I really think a bill like this is really going to hamper the schools from even thinking about offering the openness and it needs to be because the school is supposed to be separate from the church,” said Hixson Kahl. “I mean it’s separation of church and state and the school is the state and religious schools are not controlled by these laws.”

In addition to this law acting as a “check” for teachers and school corporations, it’s also drawing a line between sex education and any other subject in school.

“The other thing that I think about this law is that it’s putting the parents to require them to take the step to do sex education and give active consent and I think that’s so unlike what we would do otherwise in the school,” said Potter. “I’m not giving the consent for my son to learn fractions. Even fieldtrips, they’re the only thing that has to be done this way […] so I don’t understand why this has to be so different.”

At the beginning of Hixson-Kahl’s teaching career, sending out a parental notification in order to teach sex education wasn’t required.

“I think in the younger ages possibly; I don’t think it is necessary in high school [to have a written consent],” said Hixson-Kahl. “I think parents are a little blind to the fact of what their children already know and, personally if I had ever been a parent, I would rather they learn it officially than in the streets.”

Lawmakers like Kruse don’t believe the law will have much of an impact on educators.

“It’ll be one more thing for them to do but one of the things schools resisted was sending another form home but they literally send thousands of these forms every year for fieldtrips,” said Kruse. “So one more form for human sexuality, I don’t think is going to be an extra burden on the schools so I think they can handle that and I think they’ll take care of sending the form.”

Kruse also added that the law also states that teachers have the ability to send the form to parents via email, instead of solely relying on the students to give the form to their parents.

“For us in Center Grove, I don’t think it will be a significant change in practice for us to make sure that our parents are actively aware of it,” said Shannon Carroll-Frey, director of secondary teaching and learning.

“Will it take a little bit more on our end in terms of bureaucracy with paperwork, yes. There are some more pieces that we would go through but we always want to make sure that parents are informed about the curriculum that their children are engaged with.”

Although it is just another piece of paper, researchers and former educators feel that it’s much more than that.

“If a parents asks, they should be able to take their child out but I don’t think it’s necessary that it be sent home,” said Hixson-Kahl. “The parent needs to take a little responsibility and know that it’s going to happen and do that, I don’t think that the law should do that.”

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